Picture it — dawn breaks on the eastern horizon while the sea gently laps against the docks of Southampton, England. An early April morning is shrouded with the call of seagulls, haze blanketing the ocean and the world’s largest moving object before your eyes.
Penn State Centre Stage presents the musical “Titanic” through Oct. 17 at the Pavilion Theatre.
Some people believe Maury Yeston’s musical adaptation of the White Star Line disaster of 1912 follows the footsteps of James Cameron’s Academy Award-winning 1997 blockbuster. It does not. A cast of more than two dozen — led by director Courtney Young — pigments a performance canvas charmingly illustrated by various collective strengths; respective ‘golden moments’ by individual actors, solo and ensemble vocal achievements in song and the theatrical open invitation for an audience to be one with an onstage depiction.
No one needs to be told what led up to and unfolded on the night of April 15, 1912, (spoiler alert: the ship sank.) Yeston’s work digs deeper within the personal and relatable qualities of the human spirit within the show’s characters. The musical “Titanic” follows the inner-emotional journeys of the passengers and crew members aboard the historic ocean liner.
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Upon entrance and prior to being seated, audience members receive boarding passes from Pavilion Theatre ushers, giving theatregoers a ‘new identity’ and welcoming them aboard the same vessel tranced upon by the actors. A thrust stage bordered by a three-way seating arrangement ceases to create a theatrical performance remembered as anything but intimate.
Richard Roland, a member of the first national tour of “Titanic,” plays shipbuilder Thomas Andrews.
“Playing a character who, in some ways, is asking for forgiveness before he dies is a very powerful experience. Andrews decides that it is ultimately his hubris that is to blame for the disaster, and he accepts his fate, and in that manner, is redeemed,” Roland said.
Julia Hemp plays second-class nostalgic romantic Caroline Neville Clarke and transmits a moment of unequivocal believability in the Act Two ensemble ballad, “We’ll Meet Tomorrow,” a musical moment following an exchange of passenger pandemonium while boarding lifeboats. Beckoning final couple farewell affections, Hemp directs her attention solely on her ship-ridden lover, Charles Clarke. It’s no surprise that an actress who delights public theater galleries with skill also recognizes the process behind a powerful feat such as the one previously acclaimed.
“The connections we establish on stage and with the audience create an intimate atmosphere ... therefore, they see not the actor, but the living, breathing, historical person. That is magical,” Hemp said.
Notable individual talents that overshadow the occasional pitfalls from misunderstood atmospheres of scene, blocking executions and foundational overused “original” artistic choices within script include sophomore musical theater student, Jonathan Savage. Putting on the mask of two characters (some actors portray up to five characters in this adaptation — hats off to costume designer Shelby Luke,) Savage’s in-and-out flashes of discourse are refreshing. The ‘nosy’ and boisterous ‘gossip girl’ of the ship’s collective cargo, Alice Beane, portrayed by Allsun O’Malley, sets aside any preconceived notions that ‘size matters.’ This petite handful of a talent smashes individual vocal transactions with crisp soprano outputs and comedic conglomerations, all the while maintaining realistic qualities that shape her Alice as a veraciously believable human.